Since 1850, the Soergels have been a family in touch with the land in Western Pennsylvania. The family’s German ancestor, John Conrad Soergel, bought property in Wexford that it has since run as a farm, orchard and market, even collaborating with Arsenal Cider on a taproom there. But cider isn’t the only libation the Soergel clan specializes in. Out in Sonoma County, Calif., in the Russian River valley, John Conrad’s direct descendant, Pete Soergel is head wine-maker at Lynmar Estate. When City Paper spoke to him by phone recently, he was just finishing up the harvest for the 2017 vintage.
“Growing up in Pittsburgh with my family, we never really drank wine around the table,” says Soergel, who spent his childhood on the family farm. After high school, he went to Virginia Tech, earning a degree in horticulture. Soergel’s aunt, who has contacts in the wine industry, introduced him to the owners of Landmark Vineyards, and with the promise of California sunshine and an interest in viticulture, Soergel packed up his car and headed west.
He started as an intern at Landmark in 2006 and from there rose steadily through the ranks. In 2007, he went to Marlborough, New Zealand, for the sauvignon blanc harvest on the northern part of the southern island. After returning to California in the fall of 2007, he became an intern at a prestigious pinot noir and chardonnay producer, Kosta Browne Winery, and was then hired full time as its cellar master. In 2011, he returned to Landmark as the assistant winemaker for a year-and-half before being hired at Lynmar Estate as an assistant winemaker in 2012. Five years later, Soergel is Lynmar’s head winemaker.
“My wine education has been very hands-on,” says Soergel. Throughout our conversation, he often mentions the names and advice of vintners he respected and learned under. Being at Lynmar offers opportunity for Soergel to indulge his agricultural roots and interest in viticulture by working hand-in-hand with the vineyard manager. “We have all these estate vineyards that we farm to really small details. We try to harvest grapes that really reflect the property,” he says. In 2017, Soergel had 85 micro fermentations of wines going. “We’re breaking up parcels [of the vineyard]; picking [grapes] on the top of the slope, the bottom of the slope. We’re picking on soil type. We’re constantly redeveloping parts of the vineyard,” he says.
A few months ago, Soergel met Kevin Perez, who has a distributor called Grape to Glass through his friend Duane Rieder, of Pittsburgh-based EngineHouse 25 Wines. Perez helped Soergel put Lynmar Estate wines on the menu at the recently opened Shadyside restaurant, Acorn. Soergel is excited to have Pittsburghers try Lynmar wine. “I would definitely encourage people from Pittsburgh, if they are making their way out here, to come and check it out,” he says.